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  • An Australian F/A-18A Hornet conducting its first mission over Syria. Australia is the latest country to begin airstrikes in Syria, a move that has sparked anger from Russia.

    An Australian F/A-18A Hornet conducting its first mission over Syria. Australia is the latest country to begin airstrikes in Syria, a move that has sparked anger from Russia. | Photo: SGT Pete/ Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defense Handout via defence.gov.au

Published 12 September 2015

Australia has conducted its first air mission over Syria, though no weapons were fired.

Australian forces conducted their first mission over Syria Friday night, despite Russian protests over the country's involvement in the conflict.

Two F/A-18A Hornets and two support aircraft participated in the mission, which took place “without incident,” according to the Australian Department of Defense.

“The mission provided on-call interdiction and dynamic targeting support as part of the international coalition’s effort to disrupt and degrade Daesh,” the department stated Saturday. Daesh is an appreciation of the Arabic name for the Islamic State group.

“No weapons were released during the mission,” the department added.

The commander of Australia's task force conducting airstrikes over Syria and Iraq, Air Commodore Stu Bellingham said the Hornets engaged in the first mission were “prepared for any short notice high priority tasking which could include surveillance and weapons release.”

“Daesh controls a large amount of territory in eastern Syria that serves as a source of recruitment and oil revenues, and as a base from which it continues to launch attacks into Iraq,” Bellingham said.

Until now Australia has largely limited its military operations against the Islamic state group to Iraq, though in February Prime Minister Tony Abbott was accused of shocking his own defense advisers by secretly considering a unilateral ground operation against the militant group.

Then earlier this week, Abbott's government was castigated by Russia after committing to joining U.S.-led airstrikes.

"From the Russian perspective we are not sure bombing Syria is a solution to the regional crisis and a way to crush ISIS," a spokesperson for Ambassador Vladimir Morozov told Australia's ABC. ISIS is an acronym for a name formerly used by the Islamic State group.

Morozov's office further argued U.S.-led airstrikes have so far proved ineffectual in dislodging the Islamic State group.

While the Islamic State group's advance in Iraq has been brought to a grinding halt this year, its slow creep across north and east Syria has continued. The militant group now controls around a third of the country – more territory than any other Syrian rebel group, despite the U.S.-led aerial bombardment. The one-year-old campaign has cost an estimated US$2.7 billion.

Earlier this year, the United States' coordinator of the campaign in Iraq and Syria, General John Allen, said close to half of the Islamic state group's leaders had been killed. However, so far the Islamic State group has recognized the deaths of barely a handful of its officials, and independent analysts say its unlikely anywhere near half of the group's administrative apparatus has been wiped out.

"The Islamic State has publicly announced when senior members of the group have been killed. But they have never talked about anyone in the core leadership being killed since 2010,” Cole Bunzel, a Princeton University scholar of Near Eastern Studies told Bloomberg in March.

"I am very skeptical of the claim that the coalition has killed 50 percent of the leadership of the Islamic State, whatever that means,” Bunzel stated.

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